Champhone villages celebrate becoming open defecation free

Villagers and officials gathered for celebrations in an Open Defecation Free village of Champhone district, Lao PDR

Residents and officials of 41 now Open Defecation Free villages in Champhone celebrated the certification in April 2021. (photo: Bart Verweiji / SNV Lao PDR)

"A toilet is not just a toilet, it is a life saver and dignity protector for women and girls,” said Jane Chandler, Deputy Head of Mission of the Australian Embassy in Lao PDR. 

Ms Chandler was speaking at ceremony in Champhone district, Savvannahket province, Lao PDR held in April to celebrate 41 villages being officially declared Open Defecation Free (OPF), with residents now able to access safely managed sanitation and enjoy natural environments free of human excreta and the dangers it poses.

"Open defecation" refers to the practise of defecating in fields, forests, bushes, bodies of water, or other open spaces. It is a major health problem for many communities that lack accessible toilet facilities. It compromises waterways and food sources, putting communities at greater risk of serious illness like diarrhea, which can cause malnutrition and stunt children's growth, and deadly diseases like cholera and typhoid. It is also undignified and unsafe, leaving girls, women, people with disabilities and other marginalised groups vulnerable to social and environmental threats.

Champhone is the largest district of the 15 in Savannakhet province, with a population of approximately 102,000 (District planning and investment data 2020). When SNV commenced the Water for Women Beyond the Finish Line project in Lao PDR in 2018, almost 40 percent of households in the district did not have a toilet.

Eliminating this practise is recognised as a top priority for improving health, nutrition, and productivity of developing country populations. It is also explicitly referenced in Sustainable Development Goal target 6.2 - “By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.”

While national community-led total sanitation (CTLTS) guidelines were in place in 2018, implementation and experience was limited. A key focus has been to strengthen the capacity of local government district teams, through training, coaching and mentoring to implement and steer sanitation-demand creation using CLTS at scale, with attention to gender equality, social inclusion and quality across the district.

Within one year of the Memorandum of Understanding being signed and with technical support from SNV advisors, the proportion of households without a toilet in Champhone had reduced by half, from 40 percent in 2019 to 20 percent in 2020.

Achieving ODF status in 40 percent of the 102 villages in Champhone has strengthened leadership and catalyzed ownership of the goal of district-wide ODF status. During the ceremony, the governor committed to support initiatives that mobilise local resources to realise 100 percent coverage by 2022.

The government district team is now well placed to mobilise communities in joint efforts to achieve ODF status, having been trained and equipped with range of participatory tools and practical guidelines through the partnership with SNV. All fifteen district governments have committed to making Savannakhet Province ODF by 2024.

Beyond the district level, Dr Panom Phongmany, Deputy Director of the Department of Health and Hygiene Promotion (Ministry of Health), confirmed the government has signed a pledge to achieve nationwide ODF status in Laos PDR by 2025.

Water for Women partners with SNV in the delivery of Beyond the Finish Line - Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene for All to improve the health, gender equality and social inclusion, and wellbeing of 200,000 people in Lao PDR by equitably increasing access and use of safe sanitation and hygiene in three districts of Savannakhet - Atsaphone, Champhone and Xonbuli.

Water for Women is the Australian government's flagship WASH program and is being delivered as part of Australia's aid program over five years, from 2018 to 2022. Through Water for Women, Australia is investing AUD118.9m to deliver 33 water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) projects and research initiatives, which aim to directly benefit 2.9 million people in 15 countries across South Asia, South East Asia and the Pacific.


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